Pieces of the Puzzle Coming Together

By Mercer BaggsFebruary 21, 2003, 5:00 pm
PACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- He cant find a fairway, and hes missed half of his greens. Yet theres that look in David Duvals eyes and sincerity in his smile.
Despite two erratic rounds at Riviera Country Club, Duval is in solid standing in the Nissan Open.
Hes 3-under-par; five shots back of midway leader Charles Howell III.
Duval has chipped in three times in two days, has made a couple of putts in excess of 40 feet, and generally grinded his way into contention.
Just silly things that just hold a round together and turn what could have been a poor day into a very acceptable day, he said of his stroke-saving shots.
But theres more to it than that, more than just good fortune.
It probably goes back to attitude, he said. You are kind of a little more patient, a little more into what you're doing. And that is probably what has been the difference for me these two days as opposed to the first couple of events I have played in.
Duval has certainly had reason over the past year and a half to lose his patience.
He is winless since his first major triumph in the 2001 British Open. Last year, he missed eight cuts ' as many as the previous four years combined, had only two top-10s and finished 80th on the money list ' his first time ever outside the top 11 since joining the PGA Tour in 1995.
Add that to a injury, a highly publicized legal battle with Titleist and an even more impersonal intrusion into his breakup with his long-time finance, and 2002 was a year best forgotten.
Duval won 13 times in 34 starts in the late 1990s. He was the last man to hold the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking before Woods took the reigns. Hes now ranked 29th in the world.
Hes not only been bypassed by the likes of Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh when it comes to Tigers chief rivals, hes no longer mentioned in the same breath.
But that doesnt seem to bother Duval.
I have played the game well for quite some time; I enjoy watching the game played well too, he said. I give my respect to those players who are playing like that. And it is enjoyable to watch somebody execute the game so well, whether it be Tiger or how Ernie has started the year.
I am comfortable with where I am and what I have done so far. I am pretty young still. And I just dont have that envy that I think is prevalent out here on tour.
But dont confuse Duvals contentment with complacency.
He says the fire still burns behind those wraparound sunglasses. If there is any change, its in his focus. For years, Duval said he was wrapped up in winning a major championship. I bought into the whole thing, he commented.
In turn, he lost sight on the importance of the other 22 or so events in which he competed each year.
I was lucky enough to win one of the major championships. But I stopped winning the other tournaments. And that is not fun when you are out here to win and compete. You got to really be focused on where you are, where you are playing.
Duval is playing in his third event of the season this week. He missed the cut at the Bob Hope and Pebble Beach, and has spent as much time on the ski slopes as on the golf course.
He was in contention in last years Nissan Open, but suffered a bout of food poisoning Saturday night that cost him 16 pounds and forced him to withdraw on the fourth hole Sunday.
I had a chance to win the golf tournament, so it was disappointing because I sure love playing the golf course here, he said.
He may have a chance to atone this year. Despite hitting 53 percent of his greens in regulation and only 39 percent of his fairways, he has scrambled well enough to better his two-day playing companion, Woods, by a shot.
Ironically, I havent hit the golf ball quite as well as I did my two tournaments where I missed the cuts. However, I got back to the essence of the game and scored well, he said.
So I am really excited about that. I feel like if I can get a little bit sharper, then I will be fine.
The pieces are there, Duval says, he just has to put together the puzzle.
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    Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

    Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

    While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

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    “It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

    Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

    “I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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    Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

    McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

    “I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

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    The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

    “There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

    He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

    “I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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    Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

    Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

    Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

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    It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

    “If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

    Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

    “It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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    Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

    By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

    Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

    Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

    “It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

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    Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

    “I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

    Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

    “If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”